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The problem with being "Color Blind"



I don't like when people tell me they are "color blind". I get a bad taste in my mouth, every time. Race is one of those topics in this country that makes people really uncomfortable, even myself. You bring it up, and it is the conversational equivalent of releasing a stink bomb. There is shock, followed by a long silence. Sometimes people look at each other, suddenly embarrassed, and they either change the topic, or say they don't want to talk about it. Sometimes they leave the room. Talking about this topic is risky- it might mean that people could think I'm an angry Latina, and I might ruin our relationship from then on. It always makes me a bit afraid to bring this up to new people. But I realized a while ago, that the first step to solving any problem is to not hide from it, and the first step to any form of action is awareness of said problem. So I decided it is important for me to actually talk about race. I decided that if I want people to know me, the real me, I need to share with them some of my experiences, that maybe me doing so would help them understand why talking about it helps us all, and maybe we could all be a little less anxious and a little more bold in our conversations about race.


I know there are people out there who will say that the election of a black president a while ago, and having a woman of color be the vice president and many other BIPOC holding places in government means that it is the end of racial discrimination, that racism is something of the past and that systems are not stacked against people of color. But the numbers do not lie. And here there are significant, quantifiable, racial disparities that cannot be ignored, in household wealth, household income, job opportunities, healthcare. One example from corporate America is that even though white males make up just 30 percent of the U.S. population, they hold 70 percent of all corporate board seats. Of the Fortune 250, there are very little CEOs that are minorities, and of the thousands of publicly traded companies today only a few are chaired by people of color. So that is a fact that anyone can verify. Imagine if you walked into a room, and it was a major corporation, and every single person around the boardroom was a person of color, you would think that was weird or innovative, or it would be pointed out as a rarity. But if you walked into a Fortune 500 company, and every single one around the table was a white man, that would be seen as completely normal. Because it is our normal, give or take a few instances. When will we think that's weird too, I wonder?


There was once institutionalized, and at one time even legalized, discrimination in our country. There's no question about it. The question that I hear from other BIPOC is over and over, how have they treated you? Because we all have some story, some time, when we had our color pointed out at us, when we felt different and singled out because of it. Now, I do not talk about this issue to complain or in any way to get any kind of sympathy. I have succeeded in finding wonderful friends and have a wonderful family, and I have been treated well by people of all races more often than I have not. But when people say to me, usually trying to let me know where they stand in this issue, that they do not see color and we are all the same inside- I feel erased. Because I do see my color, and I can't take it off. It's a big part of my identity even, and no- I do not believe we are all the same. I want people to appreciate that differences and diversity are assets, we don't need to all be the same, we need to work together and make this world better for everyone, no matter what they look like. I can't take my color off for the day. I know you can see it too. Let's not keep pretending that color doesn't matter- because it does. It's there when you're applying for a job. It's there when you walk home at night. It is there, always.


I am talking about this issue of racial discrimination because I believe it threatens to rob yet another generation in this country of all the opportunities that all of us want for our children, no matter what their color is or where they come from. And I think it also happens to hold back economic growth as well. Businesses need diversity as much as society does, but sometimes BIPOC are not hired because of fear and biases, and those are based only in the perception that these companies have of people of a different race. They say they don't see color- yet only include people that look like them. Actions usually speak louder than words.


Researchers have coined this term "color blindness" to describe a learned behavior where people pretend that they don't notice race. The key word here is "pretend", because you can't really ignore it. If you happen to grow up surrounded by a bunch of people who look like you, that's purely accidental. But often, the choice to continue living like that is not. It might feel comfortable, but it does nothing to expand our minds or improve our understanding of other people, different to us. The best idea is to surrounds us in diversity, diversity of race, of thought, of opinions.

Sadly, color blindness doesn't mean that there's no racial discrimination, or that there's fairness in all the land. It doesn't mean that at all. It doesn't ensure it. Color blindness is very dangerous, because it means we're ignoring the problem. Instead of avoiding race, the really smart solution is to actually deal with it head on. We need to recognize that embracing diversity means recognizing all races and cultures, including the one that is the majority. But this subject matter can be hard, awkward, uncomfortable- and that's kind of the point.


So it's time for us to be comfortable with the uncomfortable conversation about race: black, white, asian, hispanic, latino, indigenous, male, female, all of us, if we truly believe in equal rights and equal opportunity for everyone in America, we have to have real conversations about this issue. We cannot afford to be color blind. We have to be willing, as a community, to have proactive conversations about race with honesty and understanding, not because it's the right thing to do, but because it's the smart thing to do, because our lives as a whole will be better with greater diversity.


Diversity is a competitive advantage, and that advantage extends way beyond business. It helps everyone. Sometimes people think that they can't do anything to improve this problem, so they don't even try. That's why you should be color bold, not color blind. If you're part of a hiring process or an admissions process, do so based on merit only- not letting your biases determine who you consider. If you are trying to solve a really hard problem, or you see someone having a hard time, you can speak up. We might be tempted to think that doing so doesn't add up to a lot, but I'm actually asking you to do something really simple like observing your environment at work, at school, at home. I'm asking you to look at the people around you, purposefully and intentionally. Invite people into your life that don't look like you, don't think like you, don't act like you, don't come from where you come from, and maybe you will find that they challenge your assumptions and make you grow as a person. You might get powerful new insights from these individuals, learn more about the world than you thought possible.


I think that this is very important so that the next generation really understands that this progress will help them, because they're expecting us to be great role models. The way I treat others, the way I behave and how I deal with difficult things, will teach my daughters how to live their own lives better than anything I could tell them. I want them to look at a CEO, an athlete, the president, anyone important on television and say, "I can be like her," or "They look like me." And I want them to know that anything is possible, that they can achieve the highest level that they ever imagined if they work hard, that they will be welcome in any corporate boardroom, or they can lead any company- even go so far as being able to lead the country. This idea of being the land of the free and the home of the brave, it's woven into the fabric of the United States of America. Here, when people have a challenge, we all take it head on, we certainly don't shrink away from it. We take a stand. We show courage. So what I'm asking you to do is to show courage. I'm asking you to be bold. As an American, I'm asking you not to leave anything on the table. As a mother, I'm asking you not to leave any child behind. I'm asking you not to be color blind, but to be color bold, so that every child knows that their life matters and their dreams are valued, and their ideas of a successful future is possible, no matter what amount of melanin they might have on their skin, or their gender expression, or their religion or sexual orientation.


Let's make it possible for future generations to have a level field, where people are judged for the content of their character and their particular talents, and not for external characteristics that they have absolutely no control over. We can do better than that.